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217 posts from September 2009

September 30, 2009

School Board member Phyllis Hope: What's wrong with going to a party?

Broward School Board member Phyllis Hope told The Miami Herald Wednesday that she was at a December party mentioned in the criminal complaint against suspended Board member Beverly Gallagher.

"The only thing I can say is, it was a party and I wasn't the only elected official there," Hope said. "A lot of people were there. What is wrong with me going to a Christmas party?"

No allegations of wrongdoing have been brought against Hope. The complaint says an undercover federal agent asked Gallagher to invite influential people who could help their construction company client get work.

Hope said among the other elected officials there were Sunrise City Commissioner Sheila Alu and former Miramar City Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman. Salesman was arrested in the same federal corruption sting as Gallagher was last week, along with Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion.

When asked if she attended the party, Alu, a Broward prosecutor, said: "It would be inappropriate for me to comment on an ongoing FBI investigation."

Eric Schwartzreich, Salesman's attorney, said he did not know whether his client had been at the party.

Hope, who is running for re-election for her Weston-area seat on the School Board, would not go into further details about the party, though she wondered why other names weren't surfacing on reports about the party.

"Why are they only mentioning other people? There were a lot of people there," she said. "It's really trying to drag my reputation down because I went to a party."

Hope, adding that she has not been subpoenaed in the corruption investigation, said she was upset about her colleague Gallagher's arrest.

"It's just sad," she said. "I'm...just devastated."

 --Amy Sherman and Patricia Mazzei

What did Broward school leaders tell employees about corruption bust?

Not much.

In a note Broward Schools Superintendent Jim Notter and School Board Chairwoman Maureen Dinnen sent to the district's employees Tuesday, they avoided going into details about last week's arrest of Board member Beverly Gallagher in a federal corruption sting. They tried to rally the troops instead:

"Together, what we do for Broward children is more important than any of us individually. The term 'Team Broward' is not a simple rah-rah phrase. We will continue to be successful because we have high quality people and we know how to work together on our core mission, educating students."

The note was sent on the district's internal message system, known as CAB.

The School Board held its first meeting without Gallagher, who is now suspended, Tuesday, but only briefly touched on the matter.

"It has been a very difficult time for us, but we are hardworking people," Dinnen said at the beginning of the workshop. "We work together and we are a great board and we are going to work like that today and in the future.''

The board meets again Thursday afternoon to hold its annual retreat with the superintendent.

Full text of the note is after the jump.

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Mendelsohn indicted on wire and mail fraud charges

An influential Broward County eye doctor whose boasts about his political connections in Tallahassee fueled a federal corruption investigation into Gov. Charlie Crist's office was arrested Wednesday on fraud charges.

Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, a Hollywood ophthalmologist who has raised millions for Florida politicians, surrendered to FBI agents on charges linked to his alleged efforts to thwart a 2000-05 state investigation into Mutual Benefits Corp., a Fort Lauderdale life insurance company. An indictment charges Mendelsohn with wire and mail fraud, aiding and abetting wire and mail fraud, and making false statements related to a fraudulent fundraising and lobbying scheme, according to prosecutors.

Mendelsohn raised more than a half-million dollars from Mutual Benefits in 2003 to finance the hiring of a dozen lobbyists and make contributions to lawmakers, to stop legislation that would have tightened regulations on the so-called viatical industry. The industry sold life insurance policies of people dying of AIDS and other diseases.

Mendelsohn, 51, is expected to appear in federal court in Fort Lauderdale Wednesday morning. His defense lawyer, John Keker of San Francisco, could not be reached for comment. More here.

A 'capitol gain' for LeMieux

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Miami political consultant Carlos Curbelo, who specializes in Hispanic media and outreach, will be leaving the private sector to serve as state director for newly appointed U.S. Sen. George LeMieux.

Curbelo's public relations/consulting firm, Capitol Gains, will be run by Curbelo's associate, Roy Schultheis.

Curbelo, 29, has worked for Gov. Charlie Crist, Reps. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart and former presidential candidates John McCain and Fred Thompson. Curbelo will be based in LeMieux's new Miami office.

Curbelo is among a handful of Crist allies who will be moving over to LeMieux's office and the governor's Senate campaign. His former spokeswoman, Vivian Myrtetus, is already working as LeMieux's deputy chief of staff. Maureen Jaeger, who is on Crist's staff in South Florida, is also headed to Washington.

Carter's aide was in frequent contact with FPL, records show

With a rate case pending, Bill Garner, the top aide to Public Service Commission Chairman Matt Carter, was in near-daily contact with Florida Power & Light officials. Since our online story was malfunctioning this morning, here's the full story:

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September 29, 2009

DCCC writing off Kendrick Meek?

The Hill: Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) might not want to hear this one, but it sounds like national Democrats aren’t all that keen on his ability to beat Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) in that state’s Senate race.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) on Tuesday sat down with reporters to go over the 2010 Senate campaign outlook. He talked about the challenges the GOP has, when he offered this:

"I'd hate to be the Republicans with six open seats -- four in which we have candidates we think can win up and running."

Well, Democrats don’t yet have a candidate in Kansas, where Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) is running for governor. And the only other open-seat race Menendez could reasonably have excluded from that group of four is Florida, where Crist is a strong favorite but Meek is raising good money as well. All four of the other open-seat races are generally considered to be toss-ups at this point.

A spokesman later said Menendez misspoke.

Two more Dems apply to replace Gallagher

Two more individuals sent applications to Gov. Charlie Crist to apply for an interim appointment to the Broward School Board to replace suspended member Bev Gallagher.

The new applicants as of today were Sallie B. Tillman-Watson, who works in the field of tax consulting, and Veda Bailey, an AIDS educator.

Crist is not expected to appoint anyone to replace Gallagher or suspended county commissioner Josephus Eggelletion this week. Both politicians were suspended last week amid separate federal corruption probes.

At the county, it's unclear if FBI agents have expanded their probe beyond Eggelletion and the county's transportation department -- the only offices where federal officials have paid a visit. Officials who work at the county's aviation department, Port Everglades, purchasing, and construction management say that they have not been questioned by the FBI.

Crist twists KidCare history

In his effort to distance himself from the government healthcare he has supported, Gov. Charlie Crist this morning on CNN both defended the KidCare health program for children and made it seem as if he had little to do with it.

"It’s for children. It’s a program I inherited," Crist said. "It’s one that’s already here."

Why is it here? Why did he inherit it? Well, Gov. Crist can thank, among others, Sen. Charlie Crist in 1998. He along with the rest of the Senate co-sponsored the legislation that established KidCare. Crist then joined the Senate in unanimously voting for it. Kendrick Meek, running against Crist for U.S. Senate, cosponsored and voted for it, too.

But he did more than vote for it. He offered an amendment designed to clarify tax remittances. It's here if you're bored: Download Hb4415e1654222. And, of course, this year he signed legislation to expand KidCare enrollment.

What an inheritance.

Question his health-care double talk, and Crist gets testy

Charlie Crist is against a public-option for health insurance, but he's for a public-option when it comes to homeowners insurance. And he's for public health-insurance when it's called Medicaid, Medicare or KidCare. (See stories here and here for more background. And check out the KidCare video below)

According to Crist, everyone else who doesn't have coverage should sign up for his Cover Florida Health Care program. Except for Crist. Though married to a millionaire, he gets free health-insurance premiums paid by taxpayers, along with all the legislators and thousands of other top state workers (not the rank and filers). And when asked about it today by our erstwhile colleague Gary Fineout, Crist got a little testy as he tried to shift the focus back to Cover Florida. He fell back on the ole Cover Florida cover when CNN's John Roberts asked him about the contradictions.

For the record: Cover Florida has now signed up about 4,129 people since February. In  that time, an estimated 3,560 people lose coverage weekly. The Crist equation four steps back + one step forward = success. An argument can be made that KidCare is not government run, but is merely government financed.The managed-care companies technically run the insurance program, though the KidCare board is selected by government officials. And the Legislature sets the parameters of the program. Crist avoids all this complexity.

Here's the transcript from this morning

Are you suggesting KidCare was already here, so you don’t support KidCare?

Crist: I didn’t say that

Well you said KidCare was there before I got there…

Crist, interrupting: “..that’s also true.”

Well, I guess my point is I you pushed to expand the enrollment in KidCare. It’s not like you tried to dismantle it or didn’t think it was a good idea

Crist, interrupting…”also true. So what’s the confusion?”

The confusion is, then, your criticism over government run healthcare when KidCare is government run healthcare, which is what they were asking you about this morning.

Crist: It’s for kids, I like it.

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Crist continues PSC interviews, says FPL extension won't matter

Gov. Charlie Crist called the decision by the Public Service Commission to postpone a decision on Florida Power & Light's $1.3 billion rate case from December until after the new terms of two commissioners in January "intriguing."

Does that decision make him feel as if he's being painted into a corner on his decision to choose between two incumbents and four newcomers "No because we still have the opportunity to make these selections on behalf of the people.''

He said he will be interviewing today the former Bradenton Herald editorial board director David Klement, who is currently the director of the Institute for Public Policy & Leadership at the University of South Florida.

Crist said he's been watching the commission "it's a lot to sort through,'' and has "not predetermined" whether he will choose incumbents Matthew Carter or Katrina McMurrian but doesn't have any reservation about putting a newbie on the commission. "How's that going to work? Well, let's see. If they do happen to be new, I imagine they will study up."

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